‘Tel Aviv Stories’ shine and movie stars glitter 

TV TIME: These lesser-known Israeli movies are now available for streaming in English.

 ‘TEL AVIV STORIES’: everything that people love and hate about Tel Aviv.  (photo credit: NETFLIX)
‘TEL AVIV STORIES’: everything that people love and hate about Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: NETFLIX)

Netflix has been adding Israeli movies every week for a few months and there is quite a library of Israeli cinema available there by now. Some of these movies are classics, well worth seeing, such as Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film, The Band’s Visit (the basis for the Tony-Award-winning Broadway musical) and Dover Koshashvili’s 2001 A Late Marriage – both of which happen to star Israel’s greatest actress, the late Ronit Elkabetz. 

But you’ve probably already heard of, and perhaps already seen these. However, there are other, lesser-known Israeli movies now available on the streamer, with English titles. 

One of a handful of decent Israeli movies made during the 1990s, Tel Aviv Stories is a compilation movie with three beautifully made short films about women in the White City. Directed and written by Ayelet Menahemi and Nirit Yaron, with Shemi Zarhin as a co-writer, this movie explores different sides of the city through three heroines. It paints a vivid picture of what the city was like 30 years ago, showing everything that people love and hate about Tel Aviv. 

Improving with age

I just watched it again and time has been very kind to this 1992 film. In fact, it might have improved with age. Each of the three distinctive stories could be the basis for a new television series about the characters; all feature actors who have gone on great success.

 ‘AJAMI’ SHINES a light on crime in Arab communities.  (credit: NETFLIX) ‘AJAMI’ SHINES a light on crime in Arab communities. (credit: NETFLIX)

The first of the three stories, Sharona, Honey, stars Yael Abecassis, a smoldering beauty who could have become an international sensation if there had been better movies to showcase her talent back then. She plays the title character in the first story, a young woman working as a stylist for commercials who spends most of her time and energy running between different, equally worthless men. 

There’s her creepy live-in boyfriend (Sharon Alexander), who is controlling and paranoid, and dreams, presciently, of buying a dilapidated building on the south Tel Aviv Street where they live, and renovating it. When they have a fight, she spends the night with the incredibly sexy Gino (Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Israeli-Palestinian actor who was murdered by Muslim extremists in 2011), but he is never around when she needs him. 

Naturally, there is also a married man (Modi Bar Am) and a clingy ex (Shahar Segal). What is great here is the atmosphere of Tel Aviv – the dirt, style and nightlife that has attracted people to the city but is now being replaced by expensive, sterile apartment towers. Journalist Amir Kaminer has a funny cameo in the film. 

The second film, Operation Cat, looks at Tzofit (Ruthi Goldberg), a poet and arts journalist, who is somewhere between bohemian and bourgeois. The story starts just as her hunky husband walks out on her and she becomes obsessed with saving a kitten trapped in a sewer grate. Dror Keren (The Matchmaker) plays a photographer and the late Rozina Cambos (The Human Resources Manager, Yellow Peppers), a very distinctive actress, is a performance artist. 

The third and in some ways most effective segment looks at Tikva (Anat Waxman), a single mother who is at the end of her rope. She isn’t in Tel Aviv for the nightlife or the cultural scene; it’s just her home and she works as a policewoman. Her husband is long gone, refusing to divorce her but abandoning her and their children. 

When she spots him on the street, he pretends to be a tourist and is about to leave the country. She snaps and takes a bunch of hostages, including an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, and won’t let them go until he gives her a religious divorce. It’s a tour de force performance by Waxman, who won the prize of the Israeli Academy (which was not yet called the Ophir Award). 

A young Sasson Gabay has a key role as a fellow policeman. Watching this film 31 years after it was first released, I was struck by the fact that there has been virtually no progress on the divorce issue since this movie was made, since a woman still needs her husband’s permission to get a divorce in Israel. This element added a certain urgency and timeliness to the story when it first came out. Unfortunately, it still does. 

Ajami, which was also released on Netflix recently, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best International Feature category in 2010 (then called Best Foreign Language Film). Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, it tells complex, connected stories of Christians, Muslims and Jews in the crime-ridden Jaffa neighborhood that gives the film its title. 

Certain events are told from multiple perspectives and the movie shines a light on crime in Arab communities, an issue that is in the headlines even more today. International audiences were often confused as to which characters were Arab and Jewish when the film was first shown abroad. Most of the dialogue is in Arabic and it was originally screened in Israel with only Hebrew subtitles, so many will welcome the opportunity to see it with English subtitles on Netflix. 

THERE ARE few movie stars today who burn as brightly or last as long as those from the previous era, and a new HBO series by actor Ethan Hawke celebrates the life and work of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, while a new documentary examines Al Pacino’s career. 

The Last Movie Stars, the series about the Newman-Woodward partnership, will begin running on March 19 on Yes Docu at 9:10 p.m. It continues every night until March 24, and will also be available on Yes VOD and StingTV. Woodward and Newman had one of the longest-lasting marriages in Hollywood, which ended only with Newman’s death in 2008, after 50 years. 

She was a serious, cerebral actress who won an Oscar early on for her portrayal of a mentally ill woman in The Three Faces of Eve, while he was a sex symbol who often played laid-back charmers in suspense/caper movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. But he had real acting talent and also became a director. Woodward gave some of her best performances in movies he helmed, among them Rachel, Rachel; The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, and The Glass Menagerie. 

They raised six children together, one of whom, his son Scott, from his first marriage, died of a drug overdose. Newman put a great deal of energy into charitable and business projects late in his life. Theirs is an interesting story and this documentary tells it in an unusual way, using voice actors, such as George Clooney and Laura Linney, to read transcripts of interviews with them. 

Becoming Al Pacino is a documentary about the actor that features interviews and rare footage from early in his career, including stage appearances and television roles. At one point, it mentions that he had a series of “odd jobs” when he first moved to Manhattan, but it doesn’t mention that one of them was in the stockroom at the Jewish magazine, Commentary, where the staff told him he was bright and urged him to finish school. 

In any case, Pacino fans will enjoy this close look into his career.  It will be shown on Hot 8 on March 15 at 9:15 p.m. and will be available on Hot VOD.